Tobore Ovuorie, soberly dressed in a knee-length plaid dress, doesn’t seem like she ever walked the streets of Lagos in a revealing suit and high heels.
Ovuorie, a freelance reporter with a burning desire to discover the truth about a sordid street business, dressed up as a prostitute to infiltrate a prostitution ring.
She took on the dangerous mission after a friend left for Europe, became a sex worker, and died, leaving Ovuorie in shock and haunted by questions.
Today, Ovuorie’s remarkable story has been turned into a hit Netflix movie, “Oloture,” which has shed light on one of Nigeria’s darkest trades.
“I needed to do justice, to know the truth. I wanted to know the process, the backstory of these women, ”the 39-year-old reporter told AFP.
By dressing, he sought to gain the trust of prostitutes, the first step in introducing him to a “lady”, a pimp.
After eight months of undercover work in 2013, Tobore Ovuorie emerged with a terrifying tale about victims of sex trafficking.
Some were sent to Europe, where they were forced to become sex workers. Others were forced to participate in orgies organized by local politicians. Some became victims of organ trafficking for ritual crimes.
He published his story in 2014 inspiring a production company to adapt it for the screen.
Released in October on Netflix, the story has been widely watched and applauded in its home country, the most populous market in Africa.
“Sometimes investigative journalists looking for the story become the story,” director Kenneth Gyang told AFP.
But in this case, the reporter was also “the torch that brought us to life” for the victims, he said.
– Disappointment –
Sex trafficking is widespread in Nigeria, particularly in southern Benin City, a recruiting ground for criminal gangs that traffic women to Europe.
It is unknown how many are trafficked, but in Italy, authorities say that between 10,000 and 30,000 Nigerians are prostitutes.
Several thousand more are trapped in Libya or other African countries, often exploited by criminals who make them believe that they will one day reach Europe.
In the film, a journalist named Oloture, playing the role of Ovuorie during her investigation, heads to neighboring Benin with a dozen other girls.
From there, their “mistress” promises to leave for Europe in exchange for money (up to $ 85,000, 70,000 euros) that they will have to return once they arrive in Italy.
Very quickly, the journey turns sour.
Instead of heading to the border, his minibus stops at a dingy training ground on the outskirts of Lagos.
There, the girls are abused and divided into two groups: “street” prostitutes and “special” prostitutes reserved for wealthier clients.
On the screen, the most exciting character is Linda, an uneducated young woman of poor rural origin, who befriends Oloture.
Linda “represents a lot of these young women and how they get disappointed,” said Ovuorie, who came across such a character during her research.
For the director, it is exciting that the film is a success in Nigeria.
“We have to see how to make this film available in remote locations for vulnerable young women who might be susceptible to being trafficked to Europe,” Gyang said.
– Emotional toll –
On social media, the movie and its ending have sparked a passionate debate.
“For most of these women there is never light at the end of the tunnel,” Gyang said, “so why would you try to make a movie that ends on a happy note?”
Ovuorie said that what she saw and experienced during her research still haunts her: She is trying to find the women she should go to Europe with and tell her stories.
His work has taken a great emotional toll, he said.
“I am a shadow of myself, I try to smile, to look bright, but most of the time it was just me struggling to hold on to life.”